Knowing even a few Spanish phrases is really useful if you’re learning Spanish or planning to visit a Spanish-speaking country. Even more so if you’re living in such a country.
There are lots of good reasons to learn Spanish, and if you want to spend any length of time in regions where Spanish is spoken, here are some really useful Spanish words and phrases that can help you make the most of your visit.
Without further ado:
How to Say “Good Morning” in Spanish
“The morning” in Spanish is la mañana, but if you want to wish someone a good morning you must say buenos días, which literally means ‘good days' (note the plural). You'll never hear someone wish you a ‘buena mañana' – don't ask me why.
If you’re into Spanish grammar, note that día is one of the rare Spanish words that ends in an ‘-a' but is masculine, so it's buenos días, not buenas días.
How to Say “Goodnight” in Spanish
Like with buenos días, to wish someone goodnight in Spanish you have to say it in the plural: buenas noches. Similarly, “good evening” is buenas tardes.
In English we generally don't say “goodnight” as a greeting; it's more often used when you or the person you're talking to are about to go to bed. Spanish is not like this – buenas noches can be used as a greeting as well as a farewell, provided it's the right time of day.
So when's the right time of day to use buenas noches? Spanish doesn't really distinguish between the ‘afternoon' and the ‘evening' in the same way that English does; there's only the tarde, which starts at noon, and the noche, the night. Generally you'd say buenas tardes from midday until sunset, at which point you'd start saying buenas noches.
How to Say “Hello” in Spanish
We've covered “good morning” and “goodnight”, but we mustn't forget the most simple Spanish greeting of them all: hola, which means “hello”.
Hola, of course, can be said at any time of day, and it's by far the most common way of greeting someone in Spanish.
How to Say “I Love You” in Spanish
Spanish has two main ways of saying “I love you”.
The more common one is te quiero, which literally means “I want you”, but is used in many of the same ways we'd say “love” in English – e.g. talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend or to your family.
The more literal translation of “love” is amar. Te amo implies much more serious feelings than those conveyed by te quiero. If you're describing non-romantic love, e.g. for a relative, you should stick with ‘te quiero'.
How to Say “Happy Birthday” in Spanish
A birthday in Spanish is a cumpleaños, a combination of the words año, meaning “year”, and cumplir, which, among many other possible translations, can mean “to turn”, as in “to turn X years old”. On your fifth cumpleaños, you cumples cinco años (turn five). And to wish someone a happy birthday, you say feliz cumpleaños.
What about the song ”Happy Birthday”? Naturally, there's a Spanish version that uses the same melody – but different Spanish-speaking countries actually have their own versions of the lyrics. For example, here's the version you're most likely to hear in Spain:
te deseamos (name),
How to Say “Thank you” in Spanish
To thank someone in Spanish, simply say gracias.
If you're feeling particularly grateful, you can add emphasis with muchas gracias or even muchísimas gracias. The verb ‘to thank' can be translated as dar gracias (to give thanks).
How to Say “You're Welcome” in Spanish
In English we have several ways of saying “you're welcome”, and Spanish is no different. When you say gracias to somebody, probably the most common response you'll hear is de nada (“it’s nothing”), but you might also hear mucho gusto (“my pleasure”), no hay de qué (“not at all!”), or las que tú tienes.
Despite what TV and movies might have made you believe, “no problem” in Spanish is not no problemo! Problemo isn't even a real Spanish word (it's problema), but even if it was, no problemo still wouldn't work since you can't stick no before a noun like that. If you really want to literally say ‘no problem', say no hay problema, sin problemas, or ningún problema.
How to Say “How Are You?” in Spanish
A common way to say “how are you?” in Spanish is ¿qué tal?, which could also be translated as “what's up?” or “how are things?”
An alternative is ¿cómo estás?, or ¿cómo está? – the latter being more formal because it means you're addressing the other person as usted rather than tú.
When someone asks you ¿qué tal? or cómo estás, you can simply reply with bien to let them know you're okay.
How to Say “I Miss You” in Spanish
There are two common ways to say “I miss you” in Spanish: te extraño and te echo de menos. The former is generally more common in Latin America, while the latter is more common in Spain, although either would probably be understood in both places.
How to Say “Yes” in Spanish
“Yes” in Spanish is sí, although Spanish speakers have a tendency to say it over and over again in rapid-fire when they could have just said it once: ¡sísísísísísí!.
Make sure you write sí with the accent when you mean ‘yes'. Si without an accent is pronounced the same way, but means “if”.
How to Say “Tomorrow” in Spanish
Mañana, mentioned earlier, means both “tomorrow” and “morning”. This sounds like it could get confusing, but it's almost always clear from the context which one is meant.
If you want to say “tomorrow morning”, don't say mañana mañana! The correct translation is mañana por la mañana (tomorrow in the morning).
How to Say “Why” in Spanish
To ask someone ‘why' in Spanish, say ¿por qué? – literally “for what?”
To respond to ¿por qué?, you might need the word porque, which means “because”. They look and sound similar, but note that porque is stressed on the first syllable, while ¿por qué? has more stress on the second word. (There's also the noun el porqué, which means “the reason”.)
A fun little expression you might find handy is porque sí, which literally means “because yes”. Porque sí is something you might say when someone asks you a question with ¿por qué? but you don't want to give a real explanation. It's the equivalent to responding to a “why?” question in English with the single word “because!” – it's a humorous way of answering without actually answering.
Numbers in Spanish
To master numbers in Spanish, first you need to learn how to count to twenty:
- 0 – cero
- 1 – uno
- 2 – dos
- 3 – tres
- 4 – cuatro
- 5 – cinco
- 6 – seis
- 7 – siete
- 8 – ocho
- 9 – nueve
- 10 – diez
- 11 – once
- 12 – doze
- 13 – trece
- 14 – catorce
- 15 – quince
- 16 – dieciséis
- 17 – diecisiete
- 18 – dieciocho
- 19 – diecinueve
- 20 – veinte
(Note that 16-19 are particularly easy to remember because they're simply formed by combining diez, ten, and a smaller number.)
Next you should learn the remaining multiples of ten:
- 30 – treinta
- 40 – cuarenta
- 50 – cincuenta
- 60 – sesenta
- 70 – setenta
- 80 – ochenta
- 90 – noventa
- 100 – cien
To fill in the gaps, just observe some examples and the pattern should be obvious:
- 21 – veintiuno
- 22 – veintidós
- 23 – veintitrés
- 31 – treinta y uno
- 41 – cuarenta y uno
- 57 – cincuenta y siete
- 58 – cincuenta y ocho
- 59 – cincuenta y nueve
When it comes to really big numbers, note that Spanish uses the long scale naming system, meaning that while a “billion” in English has nine zeroes on the end (which Spanish speakers call simply mil millones, a thousand millions), a billón in Spanish has twelve zeroes (what English speakers call a “trillion”).
On the subject of big numbers, in English we often write them with a comma every three digits to aid readability, e.g. “1,000,000”, but in Spanish you use a full stop (that’s a “period” for the American readers) for the same purpose: “1.000.000”. Similarly, in Spanish you use a comma for the decimal point, so e.g. the number that we write as “1,499.99” would normally be written as “1.499,99” in most Spanish-speaking countries.
Days of the Week in Spanish
The days of the week in Spanish are simply:
- Monday – lunes
- Tuesday – martes
- Wednesday – miércoles
- Thursday – jueves
- Friday – viernes
- Saturday – sábado
- Sunday – domingo
Remember that in Spanish, unlike in English, days of the week are not written with a capital letter.
Months in Spanish
- January – enero
- February – febrero
- March – marzo
- April – abril
- May – mayo
- June – junio
- July – julio
- August – agosto
- September – septiembre
- October – octubre
- November – noviembre
- December – diciembre
Like days of the week, month names in Spanish are also not capitalised.
Colours in Spanish
Like English, Spanish has an enormous number of words for different colours, including obscure and fancy words (azure, fuschia) that almost never get used. Here are the most important ones you should know:
- blue – azul
- yellow – amarillo
- red – rojo
- orange – anaranjado
- white – blanco
- black – negro
- brown – marrón
- green – verde
- grey – gris
What other Spanish words or phrases do you think would be useful on a trip to a Spanish-speaking country? Let me know in the comments.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.